AE-240:  Analog Technology Gear (Philosophy)
Instructor: Eddie Ciletti
updated 22 November 2010

With no beat detective or auto-tune, the discipline of Analog Tape requires that we go back to basics by  emphasizing ensemble performance.  (The whole being greater than the sum of the parts.)  By extension, the limitations of four track during the first five weeks 'coerces' us to find simple mic-ing solutions.  Yes, we could use all the same microphones in all the usual places and submix them, but there is no going back to fix problems caused by placement, polarity, EQ or  balance.  Simplifying the equation reduces the complexity and improves our reaction time to resolve problems in real time (less IS more). 

By taking the olde skule approach of fewer microphones and limited submixing capability, we invite ambiance without the need for a dedicated ambient mic, allowing the space around the performance to contribute to the whole.  Gear being second to the performance, fewer mics means that EACH mic-preamp-processor combo contributes more character. (The sound will be more unique.)

With that in mind, here's an overview of the equipment we are using... 

GEAR OPTIONS (from top to bottom)
At the top of the rack is an oscillator for sending test tones to gear and tape machines to confirm operation.

The Altec 1612, is a two-input solid-state mixer and FET limiter similar in concept to the 1176 with fewer ratio and speed options. It is nearly always used on crotch mic plus either bass amp or  snare or overhead.  Crotch mic is always OMNI, and is typically the 'skinny' Nady TM-1150.  If the drummer plays hard, a Electro-Voice dynamic omni is swapped into the crotch position.

The Neve 1272 line amp has been converted to a 1066 style NEVE preamp (same as the GR NV-1).  It has a few switches on it for impedance options and phase reverse.  It has a lot of gain, great for ribbon mics on acoustic guitar. 

Sharing space wiht the Neve is an LA-3a solid-state optical limiter.  It's rear panel 20dB PAD has been brought to the front, as has the two mic input transformer primary windings that can provide up to 6dB gain with some mics.  It is most like the LA-2a (Vacuum tube) - both are smooth optical limiters that are great for tracking because they rarely compromise the sound like some compressors can... 

In the 3rd rack position is an Altec 438 vacuum tube mic preamp and variable-mu compressor.  The line input only version - the 436 - was used at Abbey road on all Beatle recordings, side by side with a Fairchild 670 compressor, which is a more sophisticated variable mu design.  Modifications added a line input, mic and line input pds, impedance options, a gentle EQ, plus Attack and Release controls.  Both mic and line inputs are VERY sensitive and more often than not, I use it in conjunction with a ribbon mic on electric guitar or bass.

The Pultec MB-1 is a vacuum tube preamp that I got from Atlantic Studios when I worked there in 1983.  I have no idea of its history, but I like to imagine it might have been used on Aretha or Cream recordings.  Its front panel originally had one power switch and one indicator lamp!  Gain was internally fixed with a jumper that offered two options IF you had a soldering iron!  Now there are a three impedance switches transformer windings can be wired in series or parallel, options that translate into 6dB level shifts.  A Gain pot replaced the internal jumper.  There is also an Input level Pot that I have come to realize is no longer necessary so it will be removed. 

The MB-1 is great for kick drum (when an outside kick mic is used) as well as vocals.  It has a decent amount of punch, gain and headroom.  An optical limiter has been retrofitted.

In the 5th rack position from the top is an 'experimental' Great River Transformerless preamp (GR-XL) with phantom power. 

Since many of the preamps also have built-in dynamics, I must constantly remind myself to use them more for protection Gain Reduction 'meter kisses' that won't destroy dynamics or use a very low ratio to 'minimize the damage.'  Mechanical VU meters have a 200mS attack and release time making them great for judging vocal or bass levels, but useless for judging 'transient' processing like drums...

In the API rack are four modules - an API 550B with three optional output transformers, an API 560 graphic, and two Harrison EQs made by Great River.  Below are 
four  transformerless dbx preamps from the late 90's.  These are in no way amazing and are similar to what's in most cheap mixers and interfaces - but when multi-tracking, they are used for hallway / reverb mics.

In a separate rack are four silver-faced UREI LA-4 limiters ALL with improved IC opamps for improved transient response, plus a mod that optimizes Threshold so that it is Ratio appropriate.  The rear panel switch increases gain from Nominal Line Level to Low Mic Level, enough to accommodate Loud Mics and Loud sources allowing them to be used as spare preamps

At the mixing position is an 8-input Behringer mixer that was salvaged from the scrap heap, a pair of JBL 7110 compressors, a stereo UREI octave graphic and a Crane Song STC-8 compressor and peak limiter.  The JBL 7110 is a VCA-based compressor limiter that I have modified for true bypass and easy internal / external side-chain options.  In addition to the typical Attack, Release and Ratio controls, there is also a variable  peak and average control.  The UREI stereo octave graphic EQ has been modified so that the sliders boost and cut only 5dB rather their original 10dB swing.  This allows more room for fine tuning as well as less 'fear' that the sliders are not perfectly aligned for stereo.  The Crane Song STC-8 is by far, one of the fastest and most transparent compressor limiters ever!